What is a BlackBerry?

BlackBerry Priv

You may hear people mention a BlackBerry, and you know they're not talking about the fruit. But what are they talking about? Chances are, they're talking about a BlackBerry smartphone.

A BlackBerry is a smartphone made by the Canadian company Research In Motion. BlackBerry phones are known for their excellent e-mail handling and are often thought of as business-centric devices.

BlackBerry handhelds actually started out as data-only devices, meaning they could not be used to make phone calls. Early models were two-way pagers with full QWERTY keyboards. They were primarily used by business people to send messages back and forth wirelessly.

RIM soon added e-mail capabilities to its BlackBerry devices, which became increasingly popular among lawyers and other corporate users. Early BlackBerry e-mail devices featured full QWERTY keyboards and monochrome screens but still lacked phone features.

The BlackBerry 5810, which was launched in 2002, was the first BlackBerry to add phone functionality. It looked like RIM's data-only devices, retaining the same squat shape, QWERTY keyboard, and monochrome screen. It required a headset and microphone to make voice calls, as the speaker was not built in.

The BlackBerry 6000 series, also launched in 2002, was the first to feature integrated phone functionality, meaning that users did not need an external headset to make calls. The 7000 series added color screens and saw the debut of the SureType keyboard, the modified QWERTY format with two letters on most keys, which allowed for smaller phones.

The newest BlackBerry phones include the excellent BlackBerry Bold, the Curve 8900, and the much-maligned BlackBerry Storm, which is the only BlackBerry phone to forgo a physical keyboard in favor of a touchscreen. Today's BlackBerry phones are a far cry from the early BlackBerry devices, as they now all feature color screens, plenty of software, and excellent phone capabilities. But they do remain true to BlackBerry's roots as an e-mail only device: BlackBerry smartphones offer some of the best e-mail handling you'll find on a smartphone.

BlackBerry has now ditched its own OS and is releasing smartphones with Google's Android OS -- the BlackBerry Priv and DTEK50 are two of its latest releases.